Of all the things to do at the 36th Dixie Deer Classic, Carl Benson of Middlesex wants to see his own deer.
The 12-point white-tailed buck he shot in November to win a $15,000 top prize isn’t his to keep just yet. It is on a tour to promote a Missouri hunting contest at outdoors shows such as the Dixie Deer Classic Friday through Sunday at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
“I can’t wait to see it again,” said Benson, who will spend time at booth 1-K09 to share his experience with any of the more than 20,000 expected visitors who will wander aisle after aisle of vendor displays, educational exhibits, demonstrations and contests.
Benson said he would advise hunters “to get to know the outfitter” before hiring local or out-of-state guide services. The Dixie Deer Classic, he said, presents a great opportunity.
“Sit and talk to them a little bit, see what kind of people they are,” he said. “You can tell a lot by sitting and talking to somebody.”
His own hunt was a Christmas gift from his wife of 28 years, Tracy, after a friend showed Carl Benson a brochure about the 27th Whitetail Trophy Hunt, a three-day contest limited to 230 hunters on 30,000 leased acres near Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. He liked the operation that Craig Danuser runs with father Don Danuser because the farm family offered hunting for free-roaming deer from stands assigned by a random computer draw.
As a top-20 finisher, Benson will have the $2,995 fee waived next fall, so he’s planning to take along his adult son.
He’ll hope for a repeat of the morning in mid-November that ended with a 30-yard shot.
“It was just my time,” Benson said. “Deer hunting is 80 percent luck and 20 percent skill. It was just my time.”
First deer, now bears
Benson’s deer, which scored 157 under the Boone & Crockett system, will be among hundreds of mounts on display. Many mounts will belong to hunters who also had good luck this fall and will bring deer for scoring.
This year, the host Wake County Wildlife Club is adding bear scoring because North Carolina has become known for its abundance of large black bears.
“The initial idea came up before the 2015 show, and we didn’t have the time to do it, so we make it a priority to add it to our program,” said volunteer Heather Shepherd, who killed a 678-pounder bear in Hyde County in November 2011.
This past fall, she said, she killed a 221-pound Tyrrell County bear near Creswell with a 510-yard shot using a .338 custom-made by Dan’s Custom Gun Service in Youngsville.
Bear awards will be given for male, female and youth categories.
Visitors who want to know when bear entries arrive should download the show’s new smartphone app for notifications, Shepherd said.
Deer hunting dominates, but visitors of all ages will have plenty to keep them busy at the event, which raises funds for the wildlife club’s conservation and education programs.
Dozens of free seminars and demonstrations will include growing food plots, aging deer, trapping coyotes, training retrievers, Becoming an Outdoors Woman and more.
Friday is Youth Day, and activities all three days include a scavenger hunt, turkey call-making and a popular BB-gun shoot.
Competitions include the N.C. Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's state turkey calling championship, and the N.C. Bowhunters Association will hold 3-D and pop-up archery tournaments in the Kerr Scott Building.
Josh Carney, aka “Son of the South,” will demonstrate natural-voice calling for numerous species.
TV celebrity appearances include Neal “Banjoman” James from “Call of The Wildman” on Animal Planet; R.J. Molinere and son Jay Paul from “Swamp People” on the History Channel; Mike Stroff of Savage Outdoors TV; Eddie Salter, “The Turkey Man” on the Sportsman Channel; and John Dudley, archery champion and bowhunter from nockontv.com.
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36th Dixie Deer Classic
What: hunting exposition
Where: State Fairgrounds, Raleigh
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 9-7 Saturday, 9-5 Sunday
Tickets: adults $12, under 12 free; Friday, $6 military, youths 13-18, military, women
Deer and bear scoring: all three days (score by 5 p.m. Saturday to be eligible for awards)